The convincing victory that Donald Trump achieved in the Iowa caucuses on Monday serves as the initial sign that his powerful influence among blue-collar evangelical Christians, which was a secret weapon in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race, continues to hold considerable clout in 2024.
On Monday, the unequal distribution of educational opportunities among members of the evangelical community in Iowa remained significant. When compared to his performance in 2016, Trump made significant progress among evangelicals who had earned college degrees as well as those who had not received college degrees. The former group, on the other hand, displayed some doubts; according to the CNN entrance survey, Trump was only able to split their support evenly with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, with each candidate receiving little less than two-fifths of the vote.
According to the results of the entrance poll, evangelicals who did not have a college education remained steady in their support for Trump, with an overwhelming two-thirds of them expressing their approval of him.
It was clear that Trump was the more popular candidate among these blue-collar evangelicals, as he outperformed DeSantis by a margin of more than three-to-one. This was the case despite the fact that the governor of Florida had support from local social conservative groups.
Trump’s Rise And The Support Of Blue-Collar Evangelicals
Among the most startling aspects of Trump’s rise to the nomination in 2016, the most shocking aspect was the strong support he gained from White evangelical Christians. This is a demographic that has generally tended to gravitate toward more conservative ideals. Trump’s breakthrough was anchored in the unwavering support of non-college educated evangelicals, who rallied behind him in greater numbers than their college-educated counterparts. This was despite the fact that Trump came from an unconventional background, as a thrice-married casino owner from New York who had previously held liberal views on social issues such as abortion.
The persistent popularity that Donald Trump has among blue-collar evangelical Christians is, in essence, illustrative of the tenacity of a group that was essential in the formation of the political environment during his last campaign.Top of Form
In the most recent nationwide polls, the former president is doing better than in 2016 across a wide range of demographic groups within the party. But blue-collar Christians may once again be very important in Trump’s campaign, especially in early states like Iowa. How involved voters are in Iowa and how the caucuses turn out will show if Trump’s final opponents can really threaten his nomination.
Like Ted Cruz did in 2016, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is counting on the large number of religious Christian conservatives in Iowa to help him win. DeSantis, like Cruz, has put himself on the far right when it comes to cultural issues.
He wants to show Christians that they can’t fully trust Trump to deal with their main concerns, like limiting access to abortion and making it harder for transgender people to play sports or get care that affirms their gender. Recently, DeSantis revealed that 150 “faith leaders” in Iowa had backed him. This included well-known social conservatives in the state.
While Trump has sent confusing messages about abortion, DeSantis will have a harder time running against Trump on the right when it comes to social issues, especially since Trump took a strong stand on these issues while he was president.
A poll released before the caucuses by the Des Moines Register, NBC News, and Mediacom in Iowa shows that Trump has a strong overall lead. It shows that 51% of Iowa evangelicals back him, which is a lot more than they did in 2016. On the other hand, DeSantis is far behind. Only 22% of evangelical voters back him, which helps explain why he comes in third place in the poll, behind Nikki Haley.
As with other recent polls, this one did not find any information about the educational gap among religious voters in the GOP race. But detailed studies from the media and the GOP in the past show that Trump does better among blue-collar evangelicals without a college degree than among those with one. This is similar to how well he did in 2016.
GOP Campaign Dynamics and the Challenge
In 2016, Trump’s victory among blue-collar Christians was a key factor in changing the way the GOP runs its campaigns. Before Trump, the main difference in the Republican race was between people who said they were evangelical Christians and people who didn’t. In 2008 and 2012, candidates like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses with strong support from evangelical Christian conservatives.
This made them the favorites of this group of voters throughout the primary season.
In politics, both Huckabee and Santorum had trouble getting support from people outside of evangelicals, even though they were once praised as favorites among evangelicals. Notably, McCain and Romney, who were the GOP winners in 2008 and 2012, did better with similar groups of voters. Gary Langer of ABC News did a series of analyses of exit polls that showed that each candidate got about one-third of evangelical votes and about half of non-evangelical GOP voters.
At first, the 2016 race between Trump and Cruz went in a similar direction. About two-thirds of the people who came to the caucus said they were religious or “born again” Christians, and Cruz easily won that group. But the race went in a different direction, like how different periods happen in superhero movies.
Like Santorum and Huckabee, Cruz had trouble with people who were not evangelical. Trump took advantage of differences in education among GOP voters to hurt Cruz’s success among evangelicals in key states.
Exit polls showed that Trump did well among Christians who did not go to college for four years.
This was especially true in Nevada, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi, and North Carolina. T
his situation was very important in South Carolina, which has always been a key state for GOP nominations.
Cruz’s plans were essentially dashed by Trump’s strong support among Christians in South Carolina who don’t have college degrees.
Looking ahead, DeSantis wants to weaken Trump’s hold on evangelical votes in Iowa, which is very important for his chances of winning the election.
He says that Trump can’t be trusted when it comes to conservative social issues, which is something that many of Trump’s evangelical followers also say. But the ongoing fight between Trump and Democrats and what conservatives see as politically motivated charges make it harder to convince them of any supposed abandonment.
Haley’s Urban Strategy vs. DeSantis’ Evangelical Focus
In the meantime, Haley is different from DeSantis because she cares less about religious voters in Iowa. Like Rubio did in the 2016 poll, she tries to get as much support as possible in cities and suburbs. South Carolina is still very important for both candidates because more than 60% of voters in recent GOP presidential elections identified as evangelical Christians. The balance between evangelicals with and without college degrees could have a big effect on the result in this state, making it a make-or-break race for the candidates.
Even if things go perfectly for DeSantis or Haley, Trump’s power over Christians who don’t have college degrees is a big problem. Getting around it looks like it will be impossible to do. Either candidate must find a way to at least partly loosen Trump’s grip if they want to really challenge him for the nomination.
The founder and head of the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, who is known for his work on conservative Christians, talks about how the educational gap in the evangelical community is growing.
He says that Trump’s focus on problems related to American identity, especially ones that make it stronger, like immigration and race relations, is to blame for this split.
“Trump has made a clear attack on racial and religious identity as the core of American identity and the Republican Party.”
This has made the evangelical society more divided along lines of education.
This growing gap is shown by the most recent American Values Survey by PRRI, which looked at how people in the US feel about cultural problems. White evangelical Christians, with and without a college degree, lean toward conservative views on key messages from the Trump-era GOP about cultural and demographic change. These views are based on unpublished poll results from 2023 that were shared with CNN. But when it comes to many of these problems, evangelicals who don’t have college degrees are more open to these messages than evangelicals who do.
Some examples: More than two-thirds of evangelicals who didn’t have a college degree agreed with the harsh statement that foreigners were “invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background,” but only about half of those who did have a college degree agreed. Evangelicals with college degrees were more likely to admit that generations of slavery and discrimination had given Whites unfair economic benefits.
Also, evangelicals who didn’t have a college degree were more open to arguments that America should break away from its democratic practices because of its problems.
They mostly agreed with the statement “we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.
“Over three-quarters of conservative Christians with college degrees, on the other hand, didn’t agree with that idea. Notably, more than three-fifths of evangelicals who did not have a degree thought that “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could build a society that could be an example to the rest of the world,” while almost three-fifths of evangelicals who did have a degree did not agree with this idea.
Most evangelicals, with or without degrees, didn’t believe that Trump broke the law in 2020 or that his reelection would be bad for American democracy. However, 66% of evangelicals without degrees liked Trump, which is more than the 49% of evangelicals with degrees who did.
New York Times Story and PRRI Research Survey
The New York Times recently wrote a story that got a lot of attention. It used survey data to show that Donald Trump’s influence was strongest among Americans who call themselves evangelicals, mostly for cultural rather than religious reasons, and who don’t usually go to church. However, PRRI’s research shows that schooling is a more important predictor of evangelicals’ willingness to accept Trump and his main ideas than religious practices. According to polls by PRRI, the number of White Christians who go to church once a week has barely gone down over the ten years from 2013 to 2023. It’s interesting that the 2023 study didn’t find any big differences in how evangelicals who regularly attend services feel about Trump compared to those who don’t.
The New York Times and Robert P. Jones both agree that Trump’s appeal to evangelicals is not based on strictly following policy orthodoxy on traditional social issues or on living up to the personal ideals that cultural conservatives hold dear. They say that he gets support because many evangelicals see him as a battle against interconnected forces that they think are pulling the country away from its “traditional values.” These forces include Democrats, the federal government, and the media.
Jones says that this trend is a “lean toward authoritarianism” among right evangelical Christians that is caused by a “desperate times” political ethic. In the early 2000s, people talked a lot about the personal values of political leaders. These days, conservative evangelicals seem to prefer a “ends-justifies-the-means ethic,” especially if they think it fits with the idea of the US being a Christian country.
Gary Bauer, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, doesn’t agree that evangelicals need to back Trump by accepting authoritarianism or giving up their own values. Jones, on the other hand, agrees with him that these people have a strong bond with Trump. Bauer says that people are loyal because they both feel like they are losing and see Trump as someone who is ready to join the fight. He thinks this bond is still strong even though Trump left office three years ago in the middle of chaos and violence.
The results in Iowa on Monday will give us a first idea of how strong this link is going to be in the long term, showing us how it will affect things after Trump leaves office.